Dad lost weight!

A holiday visit sometimes reveals surprising changes, such as little food in the cupboard, a loved one’s loss of appetite, or his or her unexpected weight loss.

Talk with the doctor first. A weight loss of 5% over 6–12 months is considered worthy of medical attention. (For a 130-pound woman, that would be seven pounds. For a 200-pound man, that would be 10 pounds.) About 75% of the time there is a medical reason, so have the doctor check it out.

But then there’s the 25% of the time when it’s not a medical problem.

Eating is a multifaceted activity. It certainly satisfies feelings of hunger. But it is also a taste sensation, a cultural activity, a reminder of our tie to times past, and sometimes a social activity. It also requires the ability to shop and to cook.

Check out these possible reasons for unexplained weight loss, and their remedies.

Access to food

  • Money. Many elders needlessly limit purchases. A review of the budget, or shopping together, may help. If finances are limited, consider senior dining programs and food banks.
  • Shopping. Your parent may have difficulty getting to a grocery store. Arrange for rides to get there. Or consider a taxi or ride-sharing service. If he or she is homebound, consider meal delivery services, such as Meals on Wheels.
  • Cooking. Cooking is physically demanding. Standing. Lifting. Carrying. Help prepare meals in advance. Or identify shortcuts, such as precut vegetables.

Appetite and eating

  • Flavor. We lose the sense of taste and smell as we age. And salt-restricted diets are often bland. Suggest cooking with more herbs and spices.
  • Pain. Pain decreases appetite. Also check with the dentist for problems with dentures or teeth.
  • Depression. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or loneliness commonly reduce appetite. So can eating alone from the loss of a partner through death or divorce. Have your loved one evaluated for depression. Look for ways to reduce isolation, particularly at mealtime.
  • Medication. Some medications cause nausea or constipation. Others bring on a depressed mood. Still others reduce the ability to taste and smell. Ask the pharmacist about side effects and possible alternative drugs.

Memory loss can result in forgetting how to cook, not recognizing hunger pains, or not cooking out of fear of leaving the stove on. Consider having microwavable meals prepared and delivered.

Overuse of alcohol leads to loss of appetite and malnutrition. But a bit of alcohol with a meal can stimulate appetite. Strive for balance.